Even among all the bizarre, inexplicable occurrences 2020 has brought about, there remain those who are perpetually unconvinced of the truth of the world’s state of affairs. Conspiracy theorists and their massive followings have taken the extraordinary events of this year and elevated them — announcing the existence of the nefarious subplots that serve only to make the already strange even stranger. The coronavirus pandemic is an infamous example, with many flat-out denying the pandemic’s existence or chalking it up to a highly organized conspiracy. No theory, however, has gained as much traction as the one presented in the viral “’Plandemic” video.
The video is a chilling, 26-minute deep dive into the (glaringly incorrect) notion that the coronavirus pandemic was engineered by a secret and evil “Deep Science” group of elites for profit, power and probably world domination. The video centers on creator Mikki Willis, who interviews a discredited scientist named Judy Mikovits.
Mikovits is a well-known “anti-vaxxer” and self-proclaimed enemy of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading medical voice on the forefront of the U.S. coronavirus response. According to Mikovits, Fauci purposefully buried her evidence that vaccines make people more susceptible to illnesses like COVID-19 — evidence that has long since been debunked by doctors, medical professionals and virologists alike.
Mikovits asserts that the pandemic was orchestrated by a secretive cabal, featuring Bill Gates, Anthony Fauci and numerous elites. The video suggests that the group has both created the coronavirus pandemic and has spread misinformation about its dangers. She also insinuates that masks actually “reactivate” the virus, and that healing microbes in the ocean’s water are the best bet at finding a cure. It’s a lot to unpack, and considering Mikovits’ track record of misreporting medical evidence, is fairly unbelievable.
And yet, anti-vaccination advocates, right-wing conspiracy groups and groups protesting quarantine found their champion in Judy Mikovits. After being posted on May 4, 2020, the “Plandemic” video amassed thousands of shares via Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. Unsurprisingly, most viewers found their way to the project on right-wing conspiracy sites (much like QAnon).
Within weeks, the video had been taken down by YouTube and numerous platforms on account of spreading dangerous misinformation amid the public health crisis. Despite the internet’s best efforts, however, the cultural impact of the pseudo-documentary remains intact.
The stars of the video — producer/narrator Mikki Willis and disgraced scientist/interviewee Judy Mikovits — have been catapulted to fame in recent weeks, despite their rather humble origins. Willis is not a full-time documentary filmmaker, nor is he a coronavirus denier himself. According to the LA Times, he “…didn’t bank on becoming the poster boy for coronavirus disinformation. In reality, he was just a dad in Ojai making low-budget movies out of his house.”
The thesis of the video, then, seems to be an outgrowth of Judy Mikovits’ personal theories, much of which involve her lashing out at members of respected medical organizations like Anthony Fauci and Robert Redfield, the president of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mikovits’ claims center around a few key points. As a prominent anti-vaxxer, she theorizes that Fauci and his evil medical cabal have joined forces to essentially bully the world population into receiving a dangerous and medically unnecessary vaccine for COVID-19.
As a spokesperson for the “medical freedom” movement, Mikovits’ work supposedly exposes that the coronavirus was developed in laboratories in China with U.S. funding, that COVID-19 statistics are deliberately inflated and that wearing a mask increases chances of getting sick “from your own reactivated coronavirus expression.”
All the while, Mikovits asserts that her work and career have been continually suppressed by Fauci.
It’s not clear whether Mikovits believes what she’s saying, or if she simply believes others will buy it. She doesn’t explain how, or why, Fauci and his “cabal” are engineering this world health crisis. Ambiguous words like “power” and “profit” play into the narrative, but her claims about these are as unsubstantiated as her unsuccessful defense of oceanic microbes as a cure-all for the coronavirus.
Nevertheless, coronavirus deniers persist in their disbelief. Whether they buy one part of her story (most popularly, the bizarre anti-mask tirade) or all of it, people have rallied around Mikovits and her blatant disregard for facts.
It’s not just conspiracy-fanatics that have bought into the “Plandemic” narrative. The coronavirus has awakened conspiracy theorists from all walks of life. Frustrated moderates and Republicans alike have leaned into the ideas of inflated death tolls and ineffective masks. Meanwhile, college-educated, suburban whites have continued to use Mikovits propaganda as fodder for their skepticism toward modern vaccination procedures.
The role of confirmation bias — a tendency to search for, interpret and favor evidence that confirms one’s own prior beliefs — has undoubtedly played a role here. Anti-vaxxers, Trump supporters and suburban elites can pick and choose the coronavirus denial theories that appeal to them most, citing the oft-quoted video as easily accessible support for their value systems.
This is particularly potent in the theories expressed in “Plandemic,” which are ultimately contradictory, ambiguous and immune to the effects of new evidence. Mikovits offers two different origin stories for the virus, one based in a lab in Wuhan, China, and another that claims the coronavirus has been spread through previous vaccinations. Similarly, she simultaneously insists on the danger of the virus when denying mask usage yet states that its effects have been grossly exaggerated. It’s impossible to believe the immensely contradictory assertions of the video.
To believe one theory would be to deny the others, and it is this inconsistency that shows the shaky ground upon which the “coronavirus denier” kingdom is built.
These inconsistencies and ambiguities are punctuated by the tricky logic problem at the heart of every conspiracy theory itself. A conspiracy may be difficult to believe, but it’s also difficult to disprove, because once a conspiracy is on a grand enough scale, there’s no telling who is involved. Any evidence — in support, against or tangential — becomes evidence for the theory itself.
For example, any proof of the coronavirus’ origins or effects proves the existence of the ever-widening net of media organizations and medical professionals involved with orchestrators like Fauci. But if a conspiracy lacks evidence, this only makes it stronger. As Live Science says on the subject, “The reason there’s no proof of the conspiracy is because the conspirators did such a good job covering it up.” It’s an endless litany of unanswered questions, inconsistent framing and exhausting logical fallacies that never fails.
In a digital landscape, the spread of misinformation for the sake of denying reality can be weaponized in increasingly dangerous ways. But unlike what the creators and proponents of “Plandemic” may want you to think, the world is not shrouded in secrecy. Information is readily available, and research is (and will always be) valuable to making medical advancements. While questioning what you see and hear is important, questioning valid authorities for the sake of partisan division is irresponsible.
Ultimately, “Plandemic” and similar denial theories have offered a type of balm for those running from the truth. A highly organized conspiracy is an easy-to-swallow pill, or at least, a pill easier to take than reality: that the pandemic was far from planned and is still unimaginably far from contained.